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The Art and Practice of Leadership Mentoring Published: Sunday, March 19, 2006 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

As managers and supervisors abandon the old paradigm of manager as police , manager as inspector , or manager as prosecutor , the need to discuss new concepts, skills, and behaviors regarding management arises. In the wake of the learning organization, a framework we have been researching and positioning with many of our customers is the manager as mentor.

As a means of organizing and presenting the theory and practice behind mentoring, we have developed a model composed of four dimensions. The first two dimensions cover the theoretical foundation behind mentoring. The third dimension covers core competencies required for successful mentoring. The fourth and last dimension covers tools and techniques used throughout the mentoring process. These four dimensions answer the why, when, and how of mentoring. Together, they compose a comprehensive framework that permits supervisors and managers to approach the subject in an organized and systematic manner. Before I highlight some outstanding elements of this model, a definition is in order.

A mentor, in general terms, is a teacher, guide, coach, role model, and advisor. The term is usually used to refer to someone who is entrusted with the care and education of another, and who is willing to give away what he or she knows in a non-competitive way. In a nutshell, mentoring is the act of helping others learn. Not all mentors are supervisors or managers, but all good supervisors and managers practice mentoring.

There are two fields of knowledge that are key in understanding the processes involved in a healthy mentoring relationship, they are Human Behavior and Learning Theory. Since there is nothing more practical than a good theory , our Mentoring Model starts by reviewing the state of research in these two fields.

Regarding human behavior, Control Theory provides both an excellent explanation of behavior as well as proper guides for leaders who wish to influence such behavior (Glasser, 1994). With respect to learning theory, the works of Kolb, 1984 and Bandura, 1984, provide an excellent starting point towards a clear understanding of the learning process within an organizational setting. Knowledge of both of these fields is instrumental if we wish to approach mentoring from a scientific perspective.

Once a knowledge base is established, our focus can shift towards the third dimension of our model. We call this dimension Intrapersonal Intelligence because supervisors and managers get the opportunity to assess themselves against 5 core competencies for successful mentoring. They are:

  • Developing people
  • Communication skills
  • Intellectual capability
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Corporate citizenship

Supervisors and managers interested in honing their mentoring skills need to determine their strength against these 5 areas. As a result of our research in this field, we have developed a Mentor Competency Profile Toolkit, which allows mentors to engage in this self-assessment and identify developmental activities for each core competency. The final step in preparing for a successful mentoring practice entails mastering the tools and techniques used throughout the mentoring process. Effective mentors know how to:

  • Establish a respect and trust based relationship with the protégé
  • Balance direction setting with empowerment
  • Give advice without getting resistance
  • Give feedback without getting resentment
  • Ask questions that challenge the curiosity and trigger learning on the protégé, and last but not least
  • Listen attentively

With the Mentoring Model we can avoid falling into the trap of quick fixes and overnight success formulas. It`s one thing to share an inventory of tools and techniques on mentoring. It`s another to discuss these tools from a knowledge viewpoint and with a clear perspective of one`s strengths and weaknesses concerning mentoring core competencies.

I recently participated in a debate regarding the locus of responsibility of employee development. As arguments were put forth, two sides developed. One side argued that the era of entitlement, paternalistic management, and job security had passed. Individuals needed to take ownership of their own future, they argued. Hence, it was the employees, themselves, who were responsible for their own development. The other side argued that it was managers and supervisors who were responsible for the development of their team members. It`s managers who determine the organization`s strategic direction, understands the gaps that need to be filled, and the core competencies that need to be developed, they declared. They sustained that managers were paid to provide the means, and generate the motivation, to assure the organization lived up to its mission. Managers could not abdicate the responsibility of leading the organization. Coaching, teaching, and mentoring are not frosting on the cake ; they are fundamental responsibilities managers fulfill to lead the organization towards the required results.

Mentoring resolves this dilemma. The true mentor will always say: You are responsible for your own learning. I am responsible for supporting, facilitating, and learning with you . After all, the best mentors love learning, not teaching. As catalyst in a process of discovery and insight, their passion for learning is contagious. This is what makes mentoring such a powerful tool!

Supervisors and managers that want to benefit from superior performance need to abandon their old cloaks and look at themselves as facilitators and mentors.

Copyright 2006 QBS, Inc.
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